A Life in Tibet and in the West; The Autobiography of Geshe Jampa Gyatso
I am going to tell you a part of my life to illustrate what took place during the days in Tibet
before the invasion of the Chinese - telling in particular about life in the monasteries, the
program of studies and debate followed by the monks, the annual program, the
subdivisions in the courses, and the complete program necessary to obtain the title of
geshe (Doctor of Philosophy) that, given one's abilities and specialization, one wants to
obtain, lasts from fifteen to twenty-five years of study.
This story, based on my experience, ends with the day on which I received the degree of
geshe lharampa. I'm not going to tell you only about my life because it alone is not
important, but rather I will speak about the dharma that I have studied and of its
significance, so that the two things together have a larger value.
My hope is that this talk might entertain you, and possibly inspire you, and increase your
enthusiasm for study and practice. I hope that this talk will help you to understand how it
is possible to practice the dharma and at the same time carry on with your work and daily
life. To unite your work with spiritual practice is a very important aspect of life: one that
will help you to grow in a way that is conscious and constructive.
I was born in 1931, the first of seven brothers, in a nomadic family in an area called Dham
close to the capital city of Lhasa. The name "Dham" means "choice" and was given by a
Mongolian king at a time in which Tibet was at war with Mongolia. Dham is located at the
foot of Mount Nyen Chen Tan-la: the lower part of which is used for grazing, the central
part being rocky, and the peak always covered with snow and ice. Behind the mountain one
finds the lake called Nam Cho Chumo. If you were to make a complete circuit of this lake it
would take you seven days. It is a special lake and it is possible, if you are in the area, to
hear the sounds of damarus (ritual drums), bells, and other instruments used in tantric
rituals. I was told about these extraordinary phenomena by some monk friends who
witnessed them. Many nomads also said that they had seen a dragon emerge from the lake
and then fly over it; the clouds then sank and the dragon flew over them. I was never there
- however, I have seen a flying dragon.
The Tibetan population was composed of people of various social classes such as peasants,
merchants, nomadic groups, artisans, artists, engineers, architects, lawyers, and so forth,
as you would find in any country's social and political organization, except for their being a
high percentage of religious people who lived in the numerous monasteries.
There were five classes of nomads. The richest possessed many animals such as sheep,
horses and yaks (a type of highland buffalo) and lived in strong tents made of yak hair. The
largest tent was used for ceremonies in which people would come together for prayer and
where occasionally a lama would give Buddhist teachings. They also possessed stores of
grain, barley, lentils, and fruit that had been gathered, which were kept in sacks made of
yak hair. The second class of nomads had fewer animals. The third, even less, and so on.
The fifth type, who were the least rich lived in small tents and would have about fifty yaks,
two or three horses, and many goats. There was yet another class of nomad similar to
gypsies that didn't have a fixed residence.
I was born into the fourth class and my family had enough possessions that we did not
have to go into debt. My mother, Tsering Lamo, was very fat. When I attended
preliminary classes in Sera Je monastery my friends would tease me, saying that my
mother had a chest as big as a piazza; and I would respond that they had seen only her
An Autobiography - Geshe Jampa Gyatso
front part and not her rear!
My mother was twenty-five years old when I was born and my father, Konchog Sandup,
was twenty-four. According to the Tibetan calendar, I was born in the year of the water
monkey. From the age of two I suffered from a serious illness. My mother often told me
that when I seemed more dead than alive, my grandmother performed religious rites and,
thanks to their power, my breathing improved and I eventually overcame the crisis. After
the age of four, I didn't suffer from this illness anymore.
Often, when I met the monks of a nearby monastery, I observed that they were tranquil,
unlike the majority of the lay people who lived in families nearby; and they also didn't
suffer from the jealousy that would divide people in the lay community.
One time my family entertained a lama of the Nyingmapa tradition - followers of the
teachings of Padmasambhava. He prophesied to my mother that I would leave my family
when I was thirteen to become a monk. He said, "When your son is thirteen you will not
have to take care of him, rather he will be able to look after himself," a prediction that was
told to me only after I had arrived at Sera Je monastery.
When I was seven years old I began working as a shepherd and lived in the open air like a
cowboy until I was twelve. In the morning, before bringing the animals to pasture, I
would make a breakfast of tsampa (a mixture of barley flour, butter, and dried meat) and
drink yogurt or tea. I was young and I liked to throw the yogurt on the ground and then
lick it with my tongue. I also made balls like marbles out of the tsampa and threw these
along the ground and then ran after them on all fours and picked them up with my mouth.
While I was in the pasture I used to entertain myself by modeling human and animal
figures from the muddy clay. The first month of the Tibetan year begins in the middle of
February and it is very cold. During this time, there were many lambs and small goats in
the herd that had been born very recently and to protect them I would put them inside my
long, heavy wool coat, wrapping them in a cloak so that I could carry them when I moved
from one area to another. I learned to read and write in the pasture and always carried a
dharma text with me called The Nine Points of Dedication. I remember reading it many
In Tibet there are many animals and the most common is the wild yak, there being
thousands of them. There are also wild horses, called chian, and tame horses, called ta, as
well as many species of deer - one in particular with huge horns that grow to be so big
that they prevent it from grazing and it risks dying of hunger. Those who understand the
dharma are able to understand that these are karmic consequences - due to causes that
have been created in previous lives. The shava is another type of deer with horns at a
right angle, which are used by peasants to dig up a type of sweet potato, and which can
also be used as a walking stick. Another type of deer, similar to sheep, lives in herds and
is hunted for its meat. Another animal that is always hunted for its meat is similar to a
goat but with a mouse-like tail, large in the body, with fine limbs, and since it is an
herbivore it doesn't harm anyone. Another animal, which lives among the rocks and in the
valleys, is similar to a cat but with a very curious distinguishing habit: it captures fish
from the rivers and then leaves them as a meal for the owls. It is hunted not for its meat,
but for its highly valued fur. To capture it, an astute hunter finds out where the owls live
and waits to see if the animal appears. There is another animal that is called the para,
which is small and has the ability to kill a yak. The large ones kill them by entering the
yak's intestine through the anus and then, once they are inside, eating away at the yak;
while the small one's kill them by sucking the yak's blood like a vampire. They spread
An Autobiography - Geshe Jampa Gyatso
through the plains where their victims, the yaks, graze. There is also an animal called the
tzoo, which is a cross between a female yak and a bull. The male is very strong in the
fields and the female gives very good milk, which is used to make yogurt.
These are the animals most characteristic of Tibet. Then, naturally, there are animals that
are common in other countries, such as monkeys, panthers, bears, etc.
Many areas of Tibet are completely covered by snow and ice. Living in these places is the
snow lion, an animal which one very rarely succeeds in seeing. The previous incarnation
of Tomo Geshe - who actually lives in America - succeeded, in an area called The Five
Sisters, to milk a snow lioness, drawing from it the nectar with which he made medicinal
pills. Another animal that is rarely seen is the yeti, the abominable snowman that looks
like something between a human and a monkey. They are very dangerous and sometimes
they approach the tents of the nomads who have sheep and other animals, but the dogs
that tend the herds perform a great service in chasing them away. The yetis, defending
themselves as they flee, grab handfuls of earth and stones and throw them over their
shoulders. They have also been known to kill human beings. I once saw a female yeti
carrying her little ones while she forded a river.
As in any other country, the food changes with the changing seasons. In summer, the
most common foods are tsampa and tea, which is prepared very often. Small children are
given very small amounts of tea. For breakfast, which is called bali in Tibetan, one usually
eats a particular cheese and drinks a creamy milk, which is used in the evening for a
yogurt drink, and which has properties that settle the sleep. In wintertime, one often eats
meat and a cheese soup with carrots, which is always very pleasant. This is the main dish
of the day and it is always served in abundance. In the evenings, a light soup is prepared
and bread is eaten very rarely.
Winter does not allow for the cultivation of vegetables, so we would keep a supply of dried
vegetables. It is possible, however, to collect herbs and greens that grow naturally, as well
as ones that are not really pleasant, such as nettles. Tibetans used to cook them very well
with recipes coming from Milarepa. I'm joking because Milarepa was a great meditator
and saint who lived as a hermit in complete renunciation, and who ate only raw nettles,
becoming a buddha in that same life - and whose teachings and poetic songs were greatly
inspired by the practice of dharma. This, briefly, is the life of the nomads. The other social
classes were distinguished according to their means and the region in which they lived.
An Autobiography - Geshe Jampa Gyatso
Entrance in the Monastery
At the age of thirteen I entered the monastery of Sera Je - which was home to about
6,000 monks - and received the preliminary vows. The great lama, Kujam Rinpoche,
who was considered a living emanation of Buddha Maitreya (who will manifest as the fifth
buddha of this fortunate era), shaved my head. Subsequently, at the age of fifteen, I
received the getsul ordination of a novice monk from Kyabje Tari Dorje Chan, who gave
me the name Losang Sherab, which means, "mind of virtue and wisdom." When I became
a gelong, or fully ordained monk, Kujam Rinpoche gave me the name Jampa Gyatso,
which means, "ocean of great love." At sixteen, I began the study of logic - the
understanding of which is very important at the beginning of one's studies - under the
guidance of the teacher Geshe Tashi Bum.
Also at sixteen, I received the initiation of White Tara from Kyabje Lazum Rinpoche, who
was considered to be the manifestation of Tara, and then took on the commitment to
recite a brief praise to Manjushri daily. If one does the practice of White Tara during a
lunar eclipse, one rises before dawn, takes the eight mahayana precepts and completes the
specific meditation. One puts a pea seed under the tongue, reciting continuously the
essential mantra: om waki de na ma. At the end of the eclipse one stops reciting and
removes the seed from under the tongue: if it has sprouted, it means that one has
attained the siddhi (power) of White Tara's wisdom, which consists of the capacity to
memorize easily whatever text one reads.
Kyabje Lazum Rinpoche was born in Nepal and it was foretold that he would live to the
age of eighty-four; but, in fact, he left his body at the age of eighty-seven. He held the
complete lineage of tantric initiations from the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism:
Nyingmapa, Kagyupa, Sakyapa, and Gelugpa. He was the fifth descendent in the lineage
of the teachings from Vajrayogini, and it was said that if one wanted to receive the
spiritual energy of this lineage one had to go to him.
At Sera Je there also lived another great being called Kyabje Kensur Dorje Chan, from
whom I received the initiation of Sarwati, for developing a mind acute in studies and for
discerning the significance of the dharma. This great lama has reincarnated in Nepal.
Sera monastery is divided into three principal universities: Sera Je, Sera Me, and Sera
Sometimes someone would put offerings for tea in a large container and then, putting it
on his head, go around the monastery informing everyone that the following morning
there would be an offering of tea. Sometimes I would fall asleep during the prayers: the
candle would gutter and I would fall and hit my head on the table. Then someone would
sound the bell and everyone would go to their classes.
The monastery had a very large kitchen and there were also lay people who worked there.
I would wake at four in the morning, recite a prayer to Manjushri, wash myself, clean my
room, and then prepare my altar with offerings of water, food, incense, and light. It was
my task to prepare breakfast for the monks who lived in my section. While doing this, I
would put a page of text nearby while I was cleaning and every so I often I would have a
look at it so that I could memorize the verses.
After breakfast, sometimes I would go to the meditation hall with other monks for the
morning rituals and we would drink some tea; other times I would stay behind and study
texts. The sounding of a gong would indicate the beginning of debate, after which there
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would be another session that would end around midday.
Then I would go to cook for my companions, unless my parents or other family had
brought food. I lived with five or six other monks and it was my job to see that they never
lacked food. My lower robes were always dirty with dried dung or ashes and my friends
called me "the Cook of Simcam." Simcam was the name of our section and meant: "room
of high persons." My teacher, who was the one in charge of discipline in the monastery,
would often give me the task of cleaning His Holiness the Dalai Lama's room, which was
located over the main assembly hall. Often, guests would stay there, sometimes wanting
to have discussions, or just to get information. The old monks had better chores than the
younger ones; often they didn't have any. I had the responsibility of receiving guests from
the country and foreigners.
After lunch I would go to my teacher for teachings; then I would return to my room for
tea. Around 2:00 or 2:30 p.m. there was afternoon debate class - which would last for
three or four hours - and by the time I returned to my room it would be sunset. I would
cook some tukpa (noodle soup) or a simple dish of barley flour. After dinner, there was an
evening debate class that would end at around 10:00 p.m.; I would read some more texts,
recite some prayers, and finally go to sleep. In the summer I would wake up around 4:00
a.m. I always tried not to put off anything until the next day that I should have done that
day, and I tried never to say, "Today I don't want to study because I'm tired." I think that
this is something that you should try to do as well.
The political administration of Tibet at that time was managed by Drepung monastery
and during the main events they were in charge of organizing them.
The Tibetan New Year was traditionally celebrated for three days and was followed by the
prayer festival known as Monlam, which was held in Lhasa. All the monks from the
monasteries, including the three great monasteries, would meet for Monlam, which would
last for twenty-one days. During the festival there would be philosophical debate,
theatrical shows, dance, sporting events, jugglers, and various other attractions - but
above all it was a spiritual gathering.
This festival time also coincided with the final exams for the geshe degree for those who
had finished their studies. This title attests to the person's abilities - both intellectual and
as a practitioner - in the teachings of the Buddhist doctrine. The examination of the
candidates who were being put forward took place in public debates. Each day - before
His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the other monks from the three great monasteries -
debates took place in three major areas of study. The first subject was in the logic text of
the Indian Buddhist pandit Dignaga, called Pramanavartika, or Valid Cognition. The
second subject, debated in the afternoon, was the Prajnaparamita, or Perfection of
Wisdom, which contains an explanation of the stages of the path in accordance with the
three principal vehicles of Buddhism: hinayana, mahayana, and tantrayana. Another
subject of debate was the emptiness of phenomena and the Madhayamika, or Middle Way.
In the evening the subjects were the Abhidharmakosha (an explanation of metaphysics
and a description of the universe) and the Vinaya (an explanation of ethical discipline).
There was a commission of qualified geshes who would listen to and evaluate the
candidates and give marks to those who would be examined by His Holiness the Dalai
Lama. Normally, to pass the exam and receive the title of geshe, one would have to return
to His Holiness's house for a period of about two weeks so His Holiness could verify
personally that the candidate was truly qualified to obtain the title. This was not the case if
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one was going for a lesser qualification. Those who obtained the geshe title had to have a
very vast consciousness: the exam was very difficult and the topics were covered very
thoroughly. During the final day of Monlam, an enormous torma (ritual cake) would be
prepared, which would then be thrown in a fire to eliminate interferences for the new
year, and during this ritual the guards for His Holiness would fire shots in the air. The
following day marked the beginning of the sporting competitions, which would include
archery and horse races. The horses (without riders) had to cover ten miles. There were
also weightlifting competitions: the athletes would sprinkle themselves and the weights
with oil to succeed in lifting the weights above their shoulders.
On the twenty-ninth day of the first Tibetan month the monks would begin their new
studies, which would continue for nineteen days, after which there would be another
prayer festival. This tradition, called To Chomo Lam, had begun with the Fifth Dalai
Every year one would tackle eight subjects of study: four of these would last for one
month, the others would last for four months. There were then another three courses that
would last for fifteen days, and one other that would last for twenty.
The time for the eight courses was divided as follows: the first course began at the
beginning of the year (at the end of January) and finished on February 19 ; the second
th th th
course began on March 8 and finished on April 7 ; the third course began on April 17
th th th
and finished on the 28 ; the fourth course began on May 27 and finished on June 16 ;
the fifth course generally began on July 15 and finished at the end of the month; the
sixth course began August 16th and finished at the end of the month; the seventh course
began on September 17 and finished on October 19 ; and the eighth course began on
November 18 and finished on December 18 .
Before the courses started the monks used to have to go outside the monastery and beg for
wood to burn in order to keep the rule set out by the Buddha saying that monks have to be
supported by charity. The monks would go into the city and the countryside to beg for
wood, not just because they were poor. There are two important aspects to this begging:
the first is so that the disciples of the Buddha liberate themselves from attachment to
comfort, and the second is so that those who give to the monks can acquire merit. In this
same way, the Buddha had gone out begging. The monks are therefore meant to do the
same and to behave properly, acting as a source of joy and spiritual inspiration, and a
cause of great merit for the donors.
An Autobiography - Geshe Jampa Gyatso
Life in the Monastery
Waking time in the monastery was 3:30 a.m. We would then go into the common
meditation hall of the three colleges where we would drink tea with milk, but before
drinking, reciting the mantra: om ah hum. Ooommm aaahhh hummmmm - and at the
same time someone beat time with a mala against the victory flag on the terrace on top of
the monastery. All this took place three times and then in the interval they would recite
prayers. The monks who were not yet in the gompa (meditation hall), before entering
would do prostrations and the signal for entering was when they played the horns and
conch shells. After this, the monks would put on their hats and sit in their places
beginning with prayers to Lama Tsongkhapa. Then, at a certain point, the monk in charge
of discipline would take off his hat as a signal and start off a chorus of the letter om, with
which there arose a very strong vibration. After that, we would take refuge, generate
bodhicitta, and then meditate on the Four Immeasurables: equanimity, love, compassion,
and joy. Then we would recite prayers to the protector Palden Lhamo. After that, money
offerings would be distributed at the sound of the conch. Finally, we would return to our
rooms and the gong would sound.
The first class would generally begin with the recitation of the one hundred and eight
volumes of teachings of the Buddha, which would last for three days. Such readings
wouldn't take place in the meditation hall, but in the courtyards of each section of the
monastery. In the final three days we would recite the Twenty-One Praises of Tara sixty
times per session. In between these six days there would be debates between the monks
of the various classes. In the morning the gong would sound, the monks - wearing their
hats - would present themselves before the abbot and they would recite the verses that
would announce the beginning of the debates. The dhi, which is the first syllable of the
prayer, expresses the essence of the mind of Manjushri: "May I be skillful in debate and
may I be able to teach it to others." The monks would then prostrate three times before
the abbot, who would bless them, reciting root verses from the Abhisamayalamkara. Each
class had a different subject of study, such as the Vinaya, the Abhidharma, etc. In
addition, we had to study and memorize the various commentaries on the root texts. The
students would arrange themselves, sitting in a circle, and a monk would then sit in the
middle and recite from memory the text he had studied. The lower classes would have to
recite the text in very loud voices.
The gong would announce the hour for tea and its sound would reverberate throughout
the monastery. If someone didn't bring his proper personal tea bowl he would have to take
off his hat as a sign. There was always someone, who in order to return to his room,
would come up with a typical excuse: "My father came to find me," or, "it was my turn to
During the second interval they would give us tukpa and some people would continue
reciting root verses from the Abhisamayalamkara or from the Madhyamika. We would
also recite prayers with different tones and rhythms. After tea and tukpa there would be
an interval of free time. When the gong sounded we would get together again in the
courtyard, sitting in our classes, and we would begin the different debates, which would
last for an hour. During the midday interval, which lasted about two hours, some classes
would remain to debate, even up to twenty-four hours straight and the students in
Abhisamayalamkara would have to supervise. At the end of the interval we would reenter
the meditation hall to receive the blessings of Hayagriva (the wrathful manifestation of
Chenresig), then we would go out to circumambulate the gompa.
An Autobiography - Geshe Jampa Gyatso
In debate, it is much more difficult to respond than it is to question. When I found myself
in front of the older monks who were answering, I was shaking and stammering and
turned bright red. There were few monks who succeeded in formulating exact responses
to the questions of the older monks.
In the second session of debate, the monks would arrange themselves in a circle and
someone from the senior class (a candidate for the geshe title) who was skilled in debate
would begin and all the others from the lower class would debate with him. When the
abbot's cook sounded the gong all the monks would make their way into another
courtyard while reciting the Heart Sutra or the Twenty-One Praises to Tara in a very slow
rhythm. These were recited nineteen times and they would be followed by praises to the
Prajnaparamita; the session would last about three hours and we would also recite the
prayers to the dharma protector Dukka, the divinity of the white umbrella. Finally, we
would recite the prayer of the lineage masters of the monastery and some particular
teaching that we were preparing to receive. Everyone would debate in shifts and the
monk in charge of discipline would inspect the courtyard three times before he returned
to his room.
The monks of the lharampa class (the highest class) wouldn't recite the evening prayers -
during which they would go back to their rooms - but when the debates began they had to
return and remain in the courtyard until 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. After 9:00 p.m., a monk
form the highest class would arrive and begin chanting in a loud voice, which was then
joined by the other classes, and this would last for about ten minutes.
At the end of this session we would join the abbot and the disciplinarian who would be
holding lanterns and a little later another monk would serve tea. Then everyone would
file back to their rooms, beginning with the lharampa class.
The students in the Abhisamayalamkara and Madhyamika classes would remain in the
courtyard all night, finishing their session at the morning tea. Since this course would last
about one month, many monks would never take off the belt that held up their shantab
(the monk's robe), and when they returned to their rooms they wouldn't go to sleep but
continue studying, and if they caught some sleep it would be leaning against a wall while
they were meditating, even though they were practically asleep. Then when they awoke
they would find their texts in front of them and they would immediately begin studying
All of what I have said is a description of the twenty-four hours of the day for those who
are pursuing their studies and have not yet achieved the geshe degree. Sometimes, during
debate the abbot would give teachings from the Lam Rim (The Stages of the Path), in
particular, the Lam Rim Chenmo (the extensive version) by Lama Tsongkhapa. The
number of classes would depend on the size of the monastery: in Sera Je, for example,
there were fifteen. In the first class one studied the brief Dura (Collected Topics) text,
based on logic. In the second class one studied the middling Dura text; and in the third,
the extensive Dura. In the fourth class one would study The New Treatises; in the fifth,
The Old Treatises; in the sixth, The Selected Treatises; in the seventh, The Treatise on the
Ancient Treatise. The eighth class was called the class on the Paramita; the eleventh, New
Vinaya; the twelfth, Ancient Vinaya; the thirteenth, Abhidharmakosha; the fourteenth,
Karam; and the fifteenth, Laram. The Karam class is for the lower geshe class and the
Lharam class is given for the superior geshe class, which has finished its study of the five
An Autobiography - Geshe Jampa Gyatso
The logic text called the Dura is subdivided into brief, middling, and extensive
presentations, which are used for practicing debate. The subject of the Brief Dura is
composed of seven points including: the different colors, forms, and shapes. When
monks learn the basics of debate they begin by studying the colors - the four primary
colors, and the four secondary colors. A complete presentation of the ten levels of
concentration includes: four concentrations on the root colors; four concentrations on the
four elements; one concentration on singlepointedness; and one on consciousness. The
following example is applicable to all the concentrations: If one concentrates on the color
yellow, then one puts the color yellow in front of oneself; then, with concentration, one
tries to expand that awareness until all of the objects in the universe are yellow. The
significance of this complete concentration is that it has the function of being pervasive
and gives one the ability to transform all the objects of the universe into the color gold.
The purpose for training debate classes in the subject of color is to train in meditation,
which is the basis for debate itself. These ten types of concentration are possessed by
noble arya beings and by all of the three vehicles, showing that all the schools of
Buddhism study and practice this subject.
The fourth of June was the day on which one passed from the first to the second class,
from the second to the third, and so forth, except for the parchin class. The main topic of
the middling Dura is the relationships and the contradictory aspects of phenomena and
the causes and results of their interdependence. The main goal of studying the
contradictory aspects of phenomena is to learn to apply the antidotes - recognizing that
which has to be abandoned on the path. The contradictory aspects are of various types:
negative and positive, affirmative and non-affirmative, those that should be practiced and
those that should be abandoned. When we talk about the causes and effects of
phenomena we are referring to the causes and effects that are internal and external. With
regard to external phenomena, one would say that they would not exist without the causes
and conditions that created them, from which one deduces that these phenomena are
products of a similar class - that is, a product cannot be of a different class from that
which has produced it. For example, a sky flower cannot exist since in the sky there is no
seed that would be able to generate it. Given orange seeds, it is not possible to obtain an
apple; it is not possible to obtain fruit of a class different from that which produces it.
Therefore, we obtain a fruit from a seed that is similar to it. We also find that the same
metaphysical law holds true for interior phenomena: from negative actions, negative
results are obtained; and from positive actions, positive results are obtained. We can give
infinite examples because there are infinite obscurations, and infinite actions, from which
we can see infinite results.
In the intermediate class of Dura, in addition to the primary subject, the monks try to
study the subject of the superior class as well, which is known as the consequence school:
that is, the consequences that are generated through the coming together of causes and
conditions. For example: if you put a piece of wood in a fire, it catches fire. To
understand with such a simple example is useful for understanding the more profound
consequences of subtle phenomena.
In the superior class of logic they go into the above subjects more in depth. They are also
given explanations of the way one should study, the qualifications for a good student, the
motivation for one's studies, as well as the motivation one should have when one debates.
Many people misunderstand the point of debate, believing that it is merely an opportunity
to show off one's skills in knowing the subject and in competing in an argument. One has
to know that the only motive for studying debate is to test one's personal knowledge of the
An Autobiography - Geshe Jampa Gyatso
subjects and to give one's fellow students an opportunity to improve their understanding.
Also, one has the opportunity to observe one's own knowledge. The questions and
responses therefore serve as a key for removing doubts.
It is very important that you enter into debate with a good heart, feeling happy and
enthusiastic. When you pose a question, you clap your hands very violently, displaying
your left hand to your opponent with the palm facing upwards and raising your right hand
high above your right shoulder. When you clap your hands, you think of your ten fingers
and remember the ten spokes in the wheel of wisdom that realizes the lack of a self of
persons that exist inherently or self-sufficiently. The wheel was of fundamental
importance in developing the technology of this planet. It is also symbolic of interior
development. When you clap the hands and they meet one another, this symbolizes the
destruction of attachment to the self of persons and to the concept of the inherent
existence of phenomena. When you then hold the left hand out and turn the hand over
with the palm facing downwards this symbolizes that when you realize the lack of a self of
persons directly, you have definitely closed the door of rebirth into the realms of inferior
and superior beings in samsara (cyclic existence). When you turn the hand downwards,
you think that you are eliminating the causes for rebirth in samsara for yourself and for all
other beings. When the right hand turns upwards, then you thing of having reached
nirvana, or enlightenment. If your motivation is good then all things can become dharma.
In the upper Dura class they would simultaneously study the mind, mental factors, and
the seventy topics of the Abhisamayalamkara. The way in which the Abhisamayalamkara
is generally studied is the same as that in which the disciples studied and practiced at the
time of the Buddha.
The great Indian pandits Asanga and Nagarjuna, who are called "the two openers of
paths," are the founders of two distinct schools of Buddhism. During the times when
these two lived there was much misunderstanding of the Buddha's words; it was for this
reason that these two thinkers were important in clarifying the Buddha's teachings and
eliminating all doubts. Their schools have come to be known as Chittamatra and
Asanga and Nagarjuna were not contemporaries: Asanga was born around 400 A.D., and
Nagarjuna was born about four hundred years later. Together, the schools that these two
founded - Asanga, the Chittamatra; and Nagarjuna, the Madhyamika - make up the
Asanga had a brother named Vasubhandu, who was a follower of the hinayana path, and
who didn't like Asanga following the mahayana path, which he thought nihilistic. One day
while he was composing a text, Vasubhandu said, "The mahayana is like a sky flower,
Nagarjuna is like a demon, and my brother is his disciple." At that time Asanga was living
in Nalanda monastery and one day he wanted to go to Kashmir, where his brother was
living (at that time Kashmir was a place where Buddhism was flourishing). It was
Asanga's habit to get up early every morning and recite the text called The Five Treatises
on the Levels. One morning, Vasubhandu, who had previously criticized his brother,
waited outside of his brother's room, curious to hear the words that his brother was
reciting. He understood that the texts Asanga was reciting were very profound and that
they could only be understood with a solid foundation of study. Slowly, over time, he came
to realize that his criticism of the mahayana view was wrong and that it had been the
result of his own bad karma that he had accumulated. This made him sad and repentant,
so to purify himself he composed the root text, the Abhidarmakosha, and became a
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disciple of his brother and a great proponent of the mahayana.
These are the subjects that were studied in the higher class of Dura.
At the age of sixteen, I studied the brief Dura; at seventeen, the middling presentation;
and at eighteen, the extensive presentation. At nineteen, I studied the great treatises.
The subject of the fourth class was how Arya Maitreya succeeded in meditating and
attaining realizations. It began with an explanation of the homage to the Buddha, and the
Abhisamayalamkara, in which the object of homage was the "Three Mothers" (or
perfections of wisdom). These are: omniscience of the consciousness, of the path, and of
the base. The omniscience of the base explains the levels of the hearers and solitary
realizers (sravakas and pratyekabuddhas); the omniscience of the path shows how
bodhisattvas are beneficial to sentient beings and how to meditate; and the omniscience
of the consciousness shows how the buddhas turn the wheel of the dharma.
The second section of the fourth class was the general teachings, especially with regard to
the non-existence of a self of phenomena and persons. One would study the five types of
logic, which included the arguments regarding sunyata (emptiness), followed by a section
regarding the three omnisciences, which is explained by means of the base, the method,
and the result. The next section covers the four types of nirvana: nirvana with remainder,
nirvana without remainder, non-abiding nirvana, and natural nirvana.
Natural nirvana is not truly nirvana, but rather sunyata, or emptiness. Nonabiding
nirvana does not exist in cessation, or in samsara. This nirvana belongs to those aryas who
obtain the cessation of samsara and who remain in that state of cessation for many eons.
The four schools of Buddhism each have their own opinion with respect to their view of
In another section of the class they would study the perfect end, which is synonymous
with nirvana (generally the term "perfect end" refers to sunyata, but here it has another
meaning), and specifically it refers to the signs of the suffering nature of samsara.
Bodhisattvas make a specific promise not to remain in meditative absorption, but to
maintain the thought that they will arise and help sentient beings and lead them to
liberation and to the pure land of a buddha. When they make an effort to arise it is with
this pure dedication. Bodhisattvas make this promise (not to absorb in cessation), before
becoming a buddha, before generating the altruistic thought, and also before obtaining
the sambhogakaya (enjoyment body) and the nirmanakaya (emanation body) of a buddha.
The second promise made by the bodhisattvas is that they will not absorb into the final
cessation as long as beings have not attained the five clairvoyances.
This section of studies would then end with the new treatises, after which there would
follow the fifth class on the old treatises. When I finished studying the old treatises I was
twenty years old. The class on the old treatises began with the scriptures on buddhas and
bodhisattvas, which is divided into three sections: that which comes from the teachings of
the Buddha, that which follows, and the blessings. The teachings from the Buddha are the
Prajnaparamita (Perfection of Wisdom).
One time there was a certain Makeda who killed the king, his own father, to take the
crown, but later he felt great remorse, and knowing the Buddha was in the vicinity at the
time, he went to speak with him. The Buddha told him that his father and mother were
objects to be killed, and that even if he were to kill many brahmins, he would be able to
purify it and attain a state of purity. Afterwards, Makeda reflected on the words of the
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Buddha, seeing beyond the mere appearance of his words, and realizing that the cause of
all suffering is karma and ignorance, and that it was these that needed to be destroyed.
When Makeda meditated on his actions, he experienced the horrible sufferings of the
vajra hells. The Buddha said to his disciples: "Because of his actions, Makeda the
torments of heel, and if you don't believe me, try putting a key in the keyhole of his door.
The disciples did as Buddha had told them, and, having put the key in the keyhole, found
that they were unable to pull it out because it had melted.
According to the teachings of the Buddha, one who despises his parents will experience
suffering in that same lifetime, because parents are objects of respect. I would advise you
not to despise your parents and to try and put their advice into practice. There could be
some cases in which it is better not to do what your parents tell you to, as for example, if
they tell you to kill an animal. In that case, it is best to make them understand why it is
better to avoid killing.
The order of the blessing is set out in a special way in the Sutra on the Levels and is
divided into three parts: (l) the mind blessed by concentration; (2) wisdom; and (3)
truth. The mind blessed by concentration refers to the Heart Sutra. The mind blessed by
wisdom refers to the fact that, with the power of a buddha, the leaves of the trees move in
the wind and the sound that arises is the sound of the dharma. This means that all
phenomena that are produced are impermanent; all contaminated phenomena are
suffering; all phenomena are empty of being truly existent and independent; and nirvana
The mind blessed by wisdom truly arises from the voice of Yaka, who is one of the kings of
the four directions. The order of the Buddha has four characteristics: through his voice
one is able to attain liberation and enlightenment; his teachings are without error or
contradiction; and the scope of his teachings and the way that he teaches causes sentient
beings to abandon their suffering and attain a state of happiness. The advantage that one
derives from listening to the teachings and putting them into practice is that one is able to
Previously, I indicated the way to generate bodhicitta, the altruistic mind. The mind of
bodhicitta and the means of generating it are the principal subject of study in the ancient
texts. Now I will tell you briefly of these instructions.
There are ten types of instructions in the Abhisamayalamkara, and they are in turn
divided into two parts: those regarding the hinayana vehicle, and those regarding the
mahayana vehicle. It is good to be specific about what is intended by these instructions:
for the mahayana the goal of the teachings is to develop bodhicitta for the attainment of
enlightenment, while for the hinayana the teachings are a means for attaining liberation.
The First Instructions Regarding the Two Truths: Conventional and Ultimate
In the two vehicles there is a difference between the two truths: according to the
Sautrantika school, all permanent phenomena are relative conventional truths, while
impermanent phenomena are ultimate truths. Phenomena that are compounded are
ultimate truths, while phenomena that are uncompounded are conventional truths.
According to the Sautrantika view, the definition of conventional truth is a phenomenon
that is not able to perform a function, while the definition of an ultimate truth is a
phenomenon that is able to perform a function - e.g.: a cause and an effect. According to
the Chittamatra view, emptiness and cessations are ultimate truths, while imputed
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phenomena and dependent phenomena are conventional truths. The reason that they
believe emptiness and cessations are ultimate truths is the fact that the objects of the
meditative equipoise of an arya being are emptiness and cessations. We can also say that
these are ultimate truths because they are objects of a pure path. On the other hand,
dependent phenomena are not pure objects and not objects of a pure path since they are
not the referent objects of the meditative equipoise of an arya - therefore, they are
According to the Chittamatra view, true cessation is the emptiness of the mind: when the
mind is contaminated by obscurations it can be purified by practicing on the path and
realizing that the mind is empty, which is a true cessation. Also, according to the
Chittamatra view, all phenomena that are sunyata (emptiness) are ultimate truths, while
everything else is a conventional truth. Also, according to the Prasangika view, all
phenomena that are emptinesses are ultimate truths, while all others are conventional
truths. For this reason we can say that both the Chittamatra and Prasangika schools say
that true cessations are emptiness.
I will give a brief explanation of the Svatantrika-Madhyamika school. It holds that the
four noble truths are not ultimate truths, but conventional. The Abhisamayalamkara is
written from the Svatantrika point of view. Emptiness is only the object of negation of
that which has to be negated. This emptiness can be divided in twenty ways, in sixteen, in
twelve, in eight, and in four.
The Svatantrika school holds that the object of negation of emptiness is the wrong
perception that sees phenomena existing from their own side. According to this school,
all phenomena are established by this wrong conception - that is to say, phenomena are
not able to exist without depending on a wrong consciousness. The four emptinesses of
the base are: the emptiness of things, non-things, self, and non-self. In this way all
phenomena can be classified as being a thing or non-thing, or they can be regarded as a
self, or other. These four types of emptiness arise in dependence. The emptiness of things
and of non-things depend on one another - in fact, if there is a thing, one cannot say that
there isn't and vice versa. Also, the self and others are in dependence: if there is a self,
there are others, and if there are others, therefore there is a self.
The twenty emptinesses:
The first is the emptiness of the inner sense organs, followed by the emptiness of
external phenomena, which is to say, the objects of the six sense organs and the emptiness
of both. The difference between the sense organs (for example, the ear) and the sensation
(sound) is that sound is not able to be seen, although we can guess where it arises from.
Therefore, the emptiness of both refers to the senses and to the organs since, with respect
to sense consciousness, they are external. These senses are not consciousnesses and they
cannot exist internally; but neither are they exterior, since they are understood by internal
consciousnesses. Therefore, these are the three emptinesses.
The fourth is the emptiness of the absolute.
The fifth is the emptiness of emptiness - since emptiness itself cannot exist from
its own side.
The sixth is the great emptiness - the objects of this are the ten directions, and one
says that there is not any phenomenon that is not pervaded by this emptiness.
The seventh is the emptiness of existence of the beginning and the end, which
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refers to samsara, since samara is without beginning. Great meditators have asserted that
samsara has no beginning, and yet it cannot have an end. According to this system, to
attempt to find an end to samsara one takes the example of an individual: for example, if
Mr. Rossi were to realize the emptiness of self, than for him samsara would cease. The
logic of these two statements come from different points of view: the first refers to a
general point of view - since sentient beings are infinite in number, one cannot say when
samsara will end, therefore one says that samsara is without end. Anyone who directly
realizes the emptiness of self cuts off samsara, while those who do not succeed in realizing
emptiness are not able to cut it off, and for this reason Aryadeva asserted the above.
The eighth is the emptiness of that which is to be abandoned. This refers to true
cessations, since cessations are not an object of abandonment.
The ninth is natural emptiness.
The tenth is the emptiness of characteristics: for example, the characteristic of
form, which is what we see with our eyes.
The eleventh is the emptiness of understanding, and refers to the three times:
since the past is what has been, the future has yet to arrive, and the present is changing.
The twelfth is the emptiness of compounded phenomena.
The thirteenth is the emptiness of uncompounded phenomena.
The fourteenth is the emptiness non-things.
The fifteenth is the emptiness of the absolute.
If you want to realize emptiness directly, you first need to establish it by means of the five
reasonings. To analyze the nature of phenomena one uses the reasoning called "freedom
from being many." To analyze causes one uses the reasoning called the "diamond slivers."
To analyze cause and effect, one uses the reasoning that refutes the existence and the non-
existence of phenomena. To analyze effects one uses the reasoning of the four alternatives.
The reasoning of dependent arising is called the "King of Reasonings" and is so called by
comparing it to the affairs of state that are discussed by the ministers of a state, while, in
the end, the decision is always made by the king. One proof that demonstrates that a
watch is not truly existent is that the watch would have to exist by itself, but a watch does
not arise from itself, or from others, or from things or non-things. If a watch were to exist
in itself, then it would not require causes and conditions, and if causes and conditions and
the cause and the effect occurred at the same time then you wouldn't be able to
distinguish what is the cause and what is the effect.
Since conventionally the cause comes before the effect, we can understand that there is
not anything that is generated by itself. Independent phenomena are phenomena that do
not arise from others; if they were to depend on themselves they would not be able to
depend on others - e.g., if a child existed independently, there could not be a mother who
existed who gave birth to the child. From a relative point of view, phenomena depend on
others, but from an ultimate point of view they do not, because of which it is said that they
do not arise from both.
The fact is that phenomena do not exist independently, they do not depend on others, and
they do not arise from both.
The fourth reasoning is the "Diamond Slivers," which holds that phenomena are not able
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to arise without causes. The great Nagarjuna examined phenomena with this reasoning in
his Fundamental Wisdom, as did Chandrakirti in the sixth chapter of the
Listening to teachings on emptiness and the various reasonings is very beneficial, and I
would recommend that you do so. We need to examine the various systems through the
five types of reasonings and then it will be possible to have a direct realization of
emptiness. This advice also comes from the experience of Nagarjuna who attained the
realization of emptiness using these reasonings. I will finish my explanation of the ten
instructions of the mahayana path here.
The Second Teaching Regarding the Four Noble Truths
These should be practiced with an awareness of the lack of inherent existence. The first
two truths are to be abandoned, and the second two truths are to be realized. The first, the
truth of suffering, has four aspects: suffering, impermanence, the lack of a self, and all
appearances being like illusions. Suffering has a gross aspect and a subtle aspect. The
gross aspects are the four types of suffering that all human beings experience, which are:
birth, sickness, aging, and death. There are other gross aspects, such as the sufferings
experienced by beings that are reborn in lower realms. Also, there is the false happiness
that is derived from the worldly pleasures that samsara offers to individuals, and that we
often believe are true happiness, but which then turn into suffering.
The subtle aspect of suffering is caused by the circulation of psychic winds in the channels
of the subtle body. When they are out of equilibrium it causes a being to have subtle
All these types of suffering are real, although at times, for normal human beings like us,
worldly pleasures can seem like the cause of happiness, while in actual fact they are truly
Taking as an example the five aggregates, when we speak of these we say that they are the
cause of suffering and that they have the nature of suffering, impermanence, emptiness,
and lack of a self. We have not understood the true nature possessed by the body; on the
contrary, we have four wrong views. Although the true nature of the body is
impermanence and suffering, we consider it to be the cause of happiness. Having these
distorted conceptions, we cannot realize the true nature of the body: in reality the body is
empty. It being the nature of the body that it lacks a self, we consider it to have an
inherent nature. Because of this wrong conception we are compelled to commit actions
that do not lead us to the right view and we commit many harmful actions that, given
time, will result in suffering.
The second noble truth, the true origins of suffering, is also characterized by four aspects:
cause, origins, conditions, and strong production. We call it "true origins" because it is
that which carries the fruit of suffering, therefore, the true origin is the cause and
suffering is the effect. In Tibetan, this second noble truth had also come to be called "the
true origin of all." By "all" we mean any type of action, illusion, or wrong view that causes
any type of problem, from the smallest to the largest. This true origin can also be called a
condition, which is a synonym, although "condition" possesses its own connotation. The
main point is that actions, and what we call illusion, intentions, and wrong concepts, are
the causes that bring about states of suffering.
I will give you an example that illustrates this point: a sculptor, in order to make a statue,
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needs to have the basic materials such as clay; then the contributing conditions that lead
to the artist's depiction are the actions of the artist and the ideas and intentions, which are
the concomitant causes.
The fourth aspect is strong production, which is always synonymous with true origins,
although this term also has it own specific connotation. Some views, intentions, and
negative illusions produce a strong negative result of suffering, and in this sense strong
production is synonymous with true origins. The reason therefore that the term "true
origins" is applied to these four aspects is to make sure that wrong views are eliminated.
Many people believe that the problems they experience are chance and do not have
causes. However, it is absurd to think that results do not come from causes of a similar
class. Many think that happiness and suffering have a unique cause, or that a cause has
innumerable effects, therefore the four characteristics of true origins are very important
for eliminating every type of wrong view.
There are six primary mental afflictions and twenty secondary ones. According to people
who have great inner experience, the two most serious mental afflictions are hostility and
attachment to sensations. In fact, when we experience a pleasurable sensation it is
followed by our generating attachment, while when we experience an unpleasant
sensation it is followed by our generating aversion. We do not know the true nature of
phenomena, therefore, when we experience a sensation of pleasure or displeasure, due to
our ignorance, we generate attachment or aversion. From the two principal afflictions the
twenty secondary afflictions arise. The third principal mental affliction is pride and the
objects that cause it are varied: wealth, beauty, one's abilities, and so forth. Due to the
arising of pride we feel superior to others and we look at them with arrogance. Pride is
like a ball - when you want to pour water over it, it doesn't stay, it slides off. This
metaphor means to say that if a person is full of pride, he is not able to listen or receive
advice from others, for which reason we say that the proud are full of themselves.
Doubt is the fourth mental affliction and is the principal obstacle for reaching any goal
that you set yourself, which applies not only to the practice of dharma, but to all things
that you want to do. With doubt you cannot realize any of your goals.
The fifth mental affliction is wrong view, which is the biggest obstacle for reaching
nirvana and enlightenment. Because of wrong view many people are not able to attain
The sixth mental affliction is ignorance - the obscured portion of the mind. We can also
say that it is the portion that we do not know. Usually we think of karma as something
philosophical, but on the contrary, it is a thing to which we are all subject. Every action of
body, speech, and mind is completed in a fraction of a second, and will lead to a karmic
result. If, in the space of a minute, we complete five positive actions and five negative
ones, these will lead to the fruition of five positive results and five negative results. The
cause of happiness in life is positive karma, while the cause of suffering is negative karma.
This is only the gross aspect of karma. If a person wants to have money, he will not be able
to obtain it if he doesn't work; but if he finds work, then he will obtain money - this is the
law of karma.
The third noble truth is that of true paths, and this refers to the path of seeing. Whether
you are on the hinayana or mahayana path, there are five levels. The true paths are the
final three: the path of seeing, the path of meditation, and the path of no-morelearning.
The path of no-more-learning it that in which one possesses definite wisdom - the total
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elimination of all obscurations and the purification of all afflictions, which is synonymous
with the attainment of liberation. Whoever has purified every type of obscuration and
illusion no longer has need of instructions. Tibetans call this completely purified mind
without obscurations the supreme mind. By eliminating the two types of obscurations
one attains the omniscient mind and this omniscient supreme mind is the true path.
The fourth noble truth is the true cessation of suffering. By true cessations, we are here
referring to the mind that is purified of the obscurations of distorted concepts and of the
obstructions to omniscience. There are many types of refuge, but the ultimate refuge is
true paths and true cessations. It is not anything external, but something that dwells in
our own minds. The ultimate refuge is therefore the attainment of this true cessation in
one's own mind. Using an analogy: true suffering is like tuberculosis or cancer, and the
true origin of suffering is like the causes that have lead to the illness. The true path
leading to the cessation of suffering is like the appropriate medicine, and the true
cessation is the positive result of being cured. We could also say that we are suffering
from a disease of the mind, and that in order to cure ourselves we need to rely on the
Buddha as our teacher, which is the true medicine for our mental obscurations. Also, in
this analogy, the dharma community is like the assistant and samsara is like a huge
hospital. Listening to the Buddhist teachings or reading many intellectual books is good,
but the most important thing is to put what we have learned and read into practice. Only
through practice can we avoid letting the teachings remain a mental abstractions.
The Third Teaching Regarding the Three Jewels
When we take refuge in the Three Jewels we need to be free from the distorted conception
that believes we are permanent and independent - on the contrary, we need to remember
that we are impermanent and dependent.
The Fourth Teaching on Joyous Effort
We need to not be attracted to negative actions, but to make an effort towards virtuous
actions that are the cause of virtue. Joyous effort counteracts laziness and indolence.
Through persevering and working hard at the practice of dharma we will be able to
overcome our problems.
The Fifth Teaching
The Sixth Teaching Regarding the Path
We have to be able to discriminate between the various paths...
The Seventh Teaching Regarding the Five Divine Eyes
The Eighth Teaching Regarding the Six Clairvoyances
The Ninth Teaching Regarding the Path of Seeing
The Tenth Teaching Regarding the Path of Meditation
These are the ten teachings of the mahayana. The other text that I had to study was on
the Jor Lam, which deals with the path of preparation and has a detailed description of
the buddha nature. The final text that one studies is called The Great Bhumis and the
Great Signs, which explains in a vast and detailed way the ten mahayana bhumis. I was
twenty years old when I studied this text.
I also remember that when I was sixteen, I received teaching on the Lam Rim from Kyabje
Trijang Rinpoche. There are different lineages of the Lam Rim teachings. One of them
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began with the Fifth Dalai Lama, another began with the Panchen Lama Chokyi Gyaltsen,
and another began with the Panchen Lama Losang Yeshe. I also received teachings on
mind training. Also, every year I would receive initiations from the Dalai Lama, in
particular the Chenresig initiation (the Buddha of Compassion). When I was nineteen, I
had a class that studied the new treatises, and in this class every other night we had to
debate all night, in spite of the fact that it was winter and it was very cold in the courtyard.
In the summer there were other problems because of the rain. We had to stay outside in a
sort of veranda, where it was always a little cold. For the monks with strong will, they saw
the fact of having to debate in the cold as the cause of receiving great merit. At the end of
the course there was a debate exam that took place in front of the abbot and the
disciplinarian who oversaw the examination on the memorization of the texts. Finally,
there was an exam in front of the entire assembly of monks in which you would have to
respond to the questions of everyone. From that course, they chose sixteen students and,
in the grand assembly hall, two monks were placed in the center to debate on a specific
subject. They were dressed in the traditional clothes and one of the two had on a yellow
hat. The clothes worn by the monks have precise symbolic meanings. For example, on the
peak of the hat there are many threads, which remind one that there are thousands of
buddhas. These threads are held by a small white cord that symbolizes bodhicitta. The
line that goes around the circumference of the hat represents the confines of the pure land
of the Buddha. The inside of the hat has three colors: red, white, and blue. The blue
symbolizes the power of Vajrapani; the white symbolizes Chenresig; and the red
symbolizes Manjushri. Inside the hat there is always a buttonhole from which hang three
blue threads symbolizing the three baskets (or sets) of teachings given by the Buddha.
When a monk puts on his hat he should remember all these things.
One great master called Dukkar Rinpoche was truly a perfect monk. Having no
possessions, one time when he wanted to make offerings he took off his hat and put it on a
rock. Then he filled his bowl with water and offered it to the hat.
The thangka and shirt of a monk are very easy to take off. This symbolizes that it is
possible to liberate oneself from the Lord of Death. When a monk puts it on, he should
recall impermanence and death and feel it his duty to practice the dharma. The only thing
that can help us when we die is the results of our actions; all the rest - our parents,
friends, and possessions - will definitely have to be abandoned. The last meal at the
moment of death will be medicine or pills of nectar. During the process of dying one
experiences signs that are the results of one's accumulated negative karma, such as the
appearance of spirits or frightening visions, or the sensation of sinking, as if one were
falling down a cliff. One may also experience sensations of heat or cold. On the other
hand, if one has accumulated a lot of merit from positive actions, during death one will
have sensations such as the experience of flying in space or seeing radiant light. These are
the exterior appearances.
At the moment of death no one is able to help us, nor harm us, but only our actions will
guide us toward our future life according to the negative or positive imprints we have
When a monk puts on his thangka he has to recall that life is brief and the only condition
for a better rebirth is his virtuous practice of the dharma. The small blue borders on the
sleeves of the thangka remind the monks of one of the early kings in Tibet, Langdharma,
who harmed and killed many monks. Many other monks fled to China during that time.
In Tibet there remained only four monks, and when things calmed down some novices
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wanted to become monks but, because it is necessary for there to be five fully ordained
monks in order to complete the ordination of new monks, a Chinese monk came to Tibet
to assist. The blue border of the thangka recalls the generosity of this Chinese monk.
When I was twenty-one, I took a course that taught mainly the texts of Lama Tsongkhapa
called The Essence of the Excellent Teachings. The first part was general but the main
body dealt with the wrong conceptions held by beings - that is, the belief that existence is
inherent, which is the main cause for remaining imprisoned in cyclic existence. Because
we possess this conception of a self, we remain involved in samsara, and from it we
develop the sense of possession and we say "mine." This leads us to develop strong
attachment for ourselves, and aversion towards others, which in turn leads us to perform
actions that create problems for us. Not understanding this state of aversion and
attachment, one experiences infinite problems, without understanding their origin. If,
instead, one understands these things, they will know the three doors of liberation that
understand emptiness. If one observes a flower just with the visual sense organ, it is not
possible to realize the emptiness of it, or its lack of a self, which one is only able to
understand through analytical investigation and logic, using the hundreds of logical
methods. For example: a rosary does not exist inherently or independently - in other
words, it does not have its own nature. The causes and effects of a rosary are not
inherently existent. The rosary does not have its own existence because it exists
interdependently. If a person asks for example: "Where is Cesare?" one could speculate
in this way: "Perhaps Cesare is in his head? In his arm? In his stomach? In his big toe, or
in his mind?" If we look hard for this entity called Cesare, we are unable to find it. We can
say that the eyes belong to Cesare, but the eyes are not Cesare. Where is Cesare? When he
began to form in his mother's womb, is it possible that he was born in that moment? Or
perhaps he was born separately from his body? Is he large or small? If Cesare is large,
how did he come to be in his mother's womb?
Reasoning in this way about the entity called Cesare, one will not be able to find him. In
fact, Cesare is only a name that is imputed on the basis of the five aggregates. In this way,
when we see Cesare we can understand that he exists on the basis of imputing him on his
five aggregates, but he doesn't have an inherent existence.
In the teachings of mahamudra, the Dalai Lama explained the way of analyzing the self,
after which it is possible to realize emptiness. If one listens to the teachings on emptiness
and then analyzes them, this will lead to results. The realization of sunyata is the best
protection against any type of obstacle or interference; even if one does not realize it
directly, the fact of meditating on it is a great protection against the obstacles that we
Monks have many vows to observe; if they break them, meditating on sunyata can purify
them. The period when we sleep can be used to accumulate merit. Even if one is not able
to analyze logically that there is an absence of inherent existence, one should try to
analyze oneself and see that one does not exist independently and inherently. Then, with
this knowledge, one can accumulate merit during one's sleep. Buddha himself said to his
disciples: "You should not consider me your teacher, but take and examine my teachings,
like a goldsmith examines a nugget to determine whether it is gold. Then if you don't find
errors or falsity in what I tell you, you will be able to have faith in what I teach."
When one buy's gold, one can analyze it in three ways. The first way is to melt it and
examine its color. The second is to cut off a piece of it to make sure that it is not mixed
with other metals. The third is to rub it with special cotton and then examine the color
An Autobiography - Geshe Jampa Gyatso
that appears because of the chemical reaction, which tells whether it is gold or not.
Likewise, there are three ways of analyzing to ascertain whether the teachings of the
Buddha are correct. The first is analogous to the first method of examining gold: one
examines the teachings by listening and reflecting. One does not have to examine too
much to ascertain that a table is made of wood - one just has to look at it - but this does
not prove that it is lacking independent inherent existence, and that it exists in an
interdependent way. Being a product, the table is an impermanent phenomenon. If a
person is not able to understand a Buddhist teaching directly or by conceptual analysis
then there is another secret way that one will be able to understand the essence of the
Dharma. For example, if one practices generosity one will obtain wealth. The first
method then is through analysis. The second is through direct understanding. If, for
example, while reading the Heart Sutra one does not find contradictions, one can then
rely on the teachings of the Buddha. The Buddha made a very precise assertion, saying
that one should not rely on the appearance of a teacher, but on the teachings that they
give. Also, if you receive a teaching from a teacher who is very famous, you don't need to
believe blindly in what they say, but it is important to analyze it. Whether the teachings
are given by a great lama or a poor monk, it is important to analyze what one hears and if
it is correct to put it into practice. We don't have to have the attitude of only following
what the great lamas say and not listen to what is said by simple monks; in both cases we
need to examine the advice. To practice dharma one needs more than a proper sitting
position: we need to practice when we walk, work, eat, sleep, etc. Every activity can be
transformed into the practice of dharma. For example, we can think of nourishing all of
the tiny microbes in our bodies when we eat, and then think of bringing all of these beings
to liberation, to the extent that we are able. Or, when we are walking in the mountains or
in a park, we can think as we breathe in that the fresh air that we are breathing is for these
tiny beings in our bodies. Anything that you can think of to transform you actions into
altruistic ones will lead to the accumulation of merit.
It is important not just to memorize the verses of the texts, but also to look and reflect on
their meaning. When our parents scold us we feel regret but when we reflect on the
reason they did it we understand that it was for our benefit. We need to orient ourselves
to thinking about ultimate truth rather than basing our lives on the conventional truths
that are mere appearances. Buddha taught his disciples how to analyze through the four
dependent characteristics that are part of the view of the Chittamatra school. According to
the Chittamatra school, there are three natures of phenomena: produced phenomena,
imputed phenomena, and thoroughly established phenomena.
For example, in front of me there is an alarm clock that possesses three characteristics: it
has a name, therefore it is an imputed phenomenon; since it is produced from parts, it is
also a produced phenomenon; finally, the emptiness of the clock is a thoroughly
The object that is imputed by name is something that we can see. The object that arises
through cause and effect is a produced phenomenon. The object of the consciousness of
an arya (one who has realized emptiness) is a thoroughly established phenomenon. For
the Chittamatrins, phenomena do not arise through the agglomeration of atoms, but
through the power of the mind. Every one of us has a different perception with regard to
an object that is observed - in this case, the alarm clock. Since everyone has their own
perception with respect to the alarm clock, if we had twenty people in a room they would
have twenty different perceptions of the clock. I have my own view of the clock that
belongs only to me; Cesare's view belongs only to him, and so forth. This is the view held
An Autobiography - Geshe Jampa Gyatso
by the Chittamatrins. According to the four ancient schools of Buddhist thought, these are
the assertions that they make.
Buddha turned the wheel of dharma three times. The first turning taught the four noble
truths, which includes the sixteen aspects. There are thirty-seven aspects of the
omniscient mind, and the fifty-three mental defects. The first are the five aggregates:
form, feeling, discrimination, compositional factors, and consciousness. The aggregate of
form has five divisions, or sources: arising from form, sound, smell, touch, and taste. The
Vaibashika and Prasangika schools assert that there are objects of form not included in
this source, for example, the revelatory form of the vows taken by monks and lay people.
After these five divisions of form there are the six mental cognizers, the six contacts, the
six feelings, the six sense organs, the twelve arisings and the four types of food (the food of
form, of contact, of meditation, of vigilance, and of the imagination). This last category
means to say that only through the vision of food can we be satisfied.
With the practice of meditation it is possible to sustain yourself without gross food. The
food of contact is used by these beings to nourish themselves with odors, like the spirits or
those who dwell in the bardo. The food of form is that which we eat every day.
Together with these divisions that are derived from the five aggregates of the base, we also
include the twelve links of dependent origination. The first link is ignorance, from which
we generate various actions, which are then the principal cause for creating karma. Karma
is of three types: positive, negative, and neutral - which does not have a definite result.
If, for example, someone has stable shamata meditation - without a precise motivation -
and they are absorbed in this state, at the moment of death one could attain a rebirth in
the upper realms. In fact, one can say that if you want to be born in the upper realms, one
can attain that through shamata meditation. It is possible, then, through the appropriate
causes, to be reborn in the form realm, the formless realm, or the desire realm (which
includes our planet and the deva realm).
Practicing without a motivation of renunciation, it is possible to be reborn in the desire
realm, but if one's practice is accompanied by renunciation it is possible then to achieve
liberation. Even with a small motivation of renunciation, such as renouncing some of your
own pleasure to feed the small birds that work so hard to find food, it is possible that this
could act as a cause for liberation. Everything depends on the motivation.
The second type of karma is negative - for example: speaking badly of another person,
one creates a seed that is deposited in the consciousness. This type of positive or negative
karma is generated spontaneously. The fifth link of dependent origination is name and
form. The sixth is consciousness. The seventh is contact. In order for contact to occur
three conditions are necessary: the object, the sense organ, and the mind that perceives a
visual consciousness. The same can be said of the other objects of sense consciousness,
such as sound, odor, tactile objects, and tastes. After contact occurs through these three
conditions, feeling arises, which is the eighth link. Feeling can be pleasant or unpleasant,
depending on whether the contact is joy or suffering; or it can be neutral if the object is
indifferent. If the food we eat is good, the feeling we will have will be pleasant and we will
generate the desire not to be separated from the object that gives us joy: then we generate
desire, which is the ninth link. On the other hand, when we have contact with an
unpleasant object, we have unpleasant feelings and we generate the desire to be separated
from it. According to the Vaibashika view, in every object the eight elements are present.
For example, take a bell: in it there are the eight elements, yet they are not in contact with
one another. Of these, the first four are the elements: earth, water, air, and fire; then
An Autobiography - Geshe Jampa Gyatso
there are the elements: form, taste, vision, and hearing. In the Sautrantika school it is
asserted that these elements are in contact with one another.
Between the Chittamatrins and the Vaibashikas there is the following debate: if one were
to put water into a kapala (skull cup) it would disperse - since the elements do not come
together, the kapala would not be able to contain the water. The Vaibashikas hold that the
water does not go through kapala since the energy of the water element that dwells within
the eight elements impedes the water from being able to go through.
The Chittamatrins pose another question to the Vaibashikas: "When a drum sounds, does
the drumstick touch the skin of the drum?" The Vaibashikas hold that the contact does
not occur. The Chittamatrins ask further: "But then where does the sound arise from?"
The Vaibashikas answer that the sound is produced in the space between the drumstick
and the skin of the drum.
Another question that the Chittamatrins pose to the Vaibashikas is: "When one walks, do
the feet touch the ground?" The Chittamatrins assert that, if molecular particles are
partless, then they would never be able to unite to constitute an object. If there are six
particles of which there are two at the center and four in the four directions, do the
particles in the center possess the four directions? If the particles at the center do not
possess them, then these two central particles would have to touch. But if these particles
are not touching, then it follows that they have a north side, a south side, an east side, and
a west side. It once again follows that they are not partless, but do in fact possess parts. If
the six particles were partless then they would form a unified object.
According to the Chittamatra school, the particles are not lacking in parts, since if they
were partless, then produced phenomena would also have to be partless. They assert that
all atomic parts - even the most subtle molecular particles - have parts. According to the
Chittamatra school, the basis of this view is in conventional, or relative, truth and in
ultimate truth, which have to be understood through a presentation of method and
wisdom. The fruit of this understanding is the four bodies of a buddha: the
sambhogakaya, the nirmanakaya, the dharmakaya, and the rupakaya.
The presentation of the path includes an exposition of method and wisdom, which are
subdivided into five parts (five for the path of method and five for the path of wisdom).
These are the paths of: accumulation, preparation, seeing, meditation, and no more-
learning. In the mahayana path bodhicitta acts as the method, while the realization of the
lack of an inherent self acts as the effect of wisdom.
To attain the state of a buddha, a being has to accumulate a great quantity of merit and
this accumulation is made over the time of three eons (very many centuries). In the first
eon one acquires the merit to attain the path of accumulation and preparation. In the
second eon, one accumulates the merit to dwell on the first seven bhumis. In the third
eon, one accumulates the merit needed to enter and dwell on the eighth through the tenth
We should understand that when we talk about accumulation we are referring to entering
a path and obtaining great quantities of merit. When we talk of a true path of
accumulation we are referring to the direct perception of the dharma and also to listening,
reflecting, and meditating on innumerable texts and teachings. You know that you have
reached this level when you have generated pure renunciation. Renunciation is not
something artificial, but something that occurs spontaneously - similar to the feeling of
desire that we generate for things. The path of accumulation is divided into three parts:
An Autobiography - Geshe Jampa Gyatso
inferior, middling, and superior. It is taught that some bodhisattvas on the inferior path,
due to discouragement, fall into the hinayana path. This discouragement arises from
uncertainties about the practice of generosity and one's ability to be of benefit to others.
For example, there are instances of persons who take the monk's vows and then later give
To attain the middling path of accumulation means that one has the realization of the
mind that is like gold. If an object is made of gold, that is its nature. If you were to break
it up into pieces, the nature of the gold does not change.
To attain the superior path of accumulation means that one's meditation on the dharma is
continuous and one has the capacity to listen to many teachings simultaneously that are
being given in different places, and that one has attained great happiness. This
bodhisattva listens to teachings directly from the buddhas through his great meditative
ability. It might be compared to the ability of a television, which through the power of
electricity, is able to receive a telecast of a football match from the other side of the planet.
In any case, the power of meditation is much more powerful than electrical energy.
After the superior path of accumulation, one enters the path of preparation, which is
divided into four levels: heat, peak, patience, and supreme dharma. It is said that when
one realizes the heat level one attains the special view that is the wisdom of meditation.
Heat has two divisions: the wisdom of equilibrium, and the resultant wisdom. In these
stages the meditator realizes that all phenomena appear like dreams, and don't have
inherent or independent existence. One attains the special qualities that liberate one from
the knowledge obscurations that are generally of two types: those that impede knowledge
due to mental defects, and those that impede liberation. Then, at the peak level, one is
liberated from the obscurations that impede the realization of emptiness. At the peak
level one no longer generates distorted views and one accumulates infinite merit. At the
patience level, the causes of rebirth in the lower realms are completely eliminated and one
can trust that they will never be reborn there. At this stage one obtains a particular
realization that allows one to perceive substances. The final stage of the path of
preparation is the supreme dharma - so-called because within the universe it is truly
One then attains the special understanding and realization of the referent object, which is
imputed and empty of having its own existence. What then happens at this stage is that
the meditator completely eliminates the wrong concept that imputed things exist
After this level, one attains meditative equilibrium and then enters the path of seeing. At
this level one attains the special ability to eliminate the perception of imaginary
phenomena. If, for example, I were to ask, "Is this watch real?" and someone responded
that it is, and that it truly exists from its own side, this would be an example of an
After the path of seeing one attains the path of meditation, which is divided into ten
stages. On the path of accumulation one has a realization of emptiness through a
meaning generality, while in the path of seeing one has a direct realization. On the path of
preparation one has a direct understanding of the meaning generality, while on the path
of seeing one has a direct understanding of the truth. In the path of meditation one has an
understanding of the resultant factors and then one attains enlightenment.
After all of these studies, we completed the study of the selected new treatises. The group
An Autobiography - Geshe Jampa Gyatso
from my class had formed a sort of small monastery within the monastery, in which we
had our own abbot and a disciplinarian, as well as forming our own debate group. During
the day there were four sections of study and then there was debate. The subject of this
course was The Essence of the Explanations of Truth and the Way to Determine It, a
course composed of one hundred twenty pages that we had to memorize. It is said that if
you recite this text one hundred times you will realize sunyata, but I didn't have this
opportunity because I only managed to memorize sixty pages. I always thought, however,
that it greatly helped me to have a certain understanding of phenomena. I also read six
commentaries on this text, and I was very proud that, thanks to these commentaries, I
had better understood the text, even though this pride later harmed me because I forgot
the sixty pages that I had memorized.
There was an homage to Manjushri composed in the ancient monastery of Nalanda. One
time when all the monks were in assembly, the abbot requested that the monks compose
an homage to Manjushri; there were five hundred monks and four hundred and ninety-
nine of them composed the homage, while only one of them wrote a long commentary on
it. This homage is very important and contains many blessings since the four hundred
and ninety-nine monks who composed it all wrote identical homages, which is truly
At the age of twenty-two I took a course on the old treatises, which covered four texts. The
first was on the meditations that cause rebirth in the form and formless realms
- in particular, these texts gave a lot of information on the development of shine,
shamata, vipassana, the concentrations, calm abiding, and profound view. The second
covered the twenty types of sangha, although in reality, if one had to count, the types of
sangha would be innumerable. There are four enterers and four fruits, or results: one who
is a stream-enterer; one who is a stream-abider; one who is a stream-enterer and
returner, and one who is a non-returner ("returning" refers to returning to the desire
realm). The second text covers dependent origination and the various opinions of masters
on this subject. For some Vaibashikas there is temporary interdependence. Of the first
five afflicted aggregates the first is ignorance and the second is the collection of factors
that determine karma. There is another school that asserts there is instantaneous
interdependence. That is to say, in a brief moment of time all of the twelve links are
realized. There is also relative interdependent origination and interdependent origination
on the basis of the view of the Lam Rim.
The fourth subject is the basis of mind according to the Chittamatra (Mind Only) school,
which has two divisions: nan-rimpa (true aspect), and nan-zumpa (deceptive aspect). For
true aspect Chittamatrins there are six types of consciousness: visual, olfactory, tactile,
taste, auditory, and mental. The seventh is called the storehouse consciousness, and the
eighth is called the afflicted mental consciousness.
The storehouse consciousness is where the latencies of karmic potentials reside. These
potentials have been created by our virtuous and non-virtuous actions. The storehouse
consciousness, whether one realizes it or not, can be called a mind lacking in attention,
which means that rather than being able to observe and feel things, they are not
remembered. The mental factors that accompany this mind are called "omnipresent".
They are: feeling, discrimination, consciousness, attention, and mental function. For the
Chittamatrins, this storehouse consciousness exists and they present eight reasons
proving it. One of these reasons states that the storehouse consciousness exists because
when a being dies, they necessarily have to be reborn. Some say that in addition to the
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eight mental consciousnesses there is a ninth called the "uncontaminated consciousness."
Others assert that there is only one mental consciousness, which is a non-Buddhist view.
They hold that a person is like a house with six windows; having only one mental
consciousness that is used by the six sense organs. Thereby the mental consciousness
carries out the function of seeing, hearing, feeling, etc.
At the age of twenty-three I studied the subject of the perfections. I had previously studied
the first chapter of the Abhisamayalamkara, and I now had the opportunity to study the
remaining chapters. The next subject, of the second chapter, was the path consciousness.
The third was the knowledge of the base that treats the union of the complementary
aspects; the fourth was The Union of the Peak; the fifth was called The Union of the
Boundaries. If I wanted to speak about all this in detail it would take at least five years.
After this course, we reunited in assembly to spend some time on Madhyamika and a
monk called "the holder of joyous discipline" had the duty of maintaining tight discipline,
but also of telling jokes.
An Autobiography - Geshe Jampa Gyatso
This monk received many donations and if he received some women's clothing he had to
put it on and pretend to be a woman, doing things that people requested. Sometimes he
would wear a hat that had a hook on top of it and act the part of a jester, making fun of
people's funny characteristics. This was an occasion of great enjoyment for everyone.
After this, the students in this course were given permission to visit the Dalai Lama. On
this occasion, the holder of joyous discipline dressed up in elegant clothes, a false beard
and moustaches, and wore a hat with a hole in it. When we all returned to the monastery
he came back first and standing in front of the main entrance of the monastery he told
those who had remained behind about the beauty of nature, the clouds, the stars, the sky,
the mountains, etc. He then said that His Holiness the Dalai Lama complimented him,
telling him that he was really a person of good heart and asking him what he wanted of life
and what position he hoped to attain. The response of the jester was: "I would like to
have something to put on the top of my hat because this would provide me with food and
drink." At that point the Dalai Lama gave him a potato to put in his hat. Actually, the
jester was lying because he had not gone to see the Dalai Lama.
In the course on the perfections I studied the two philosophical systems - the Chittamatra
and the Madhyamika. The text on the perfections has the explicit subject of emptiness,
while its implicit subject is the stages of the path. It emphasizes emptiness and the
Chittamatra and Madhyamika view of the merit of the perfections. They both refer to the
eight things and the seventy subsidiary topics. The principal thing that distinguishes
these schools is the mind that forms the basis of the law of cause and effect. Speaking of
Buddhist systems in general, most accept the six types of consciousness, while the
Chittamatra school presents eight: the seventh being the mind-basis-of-all, and the
eighth being the afflicted mental consciousness. The seventh, the mind-basis-of-all, is a
neutral mind, neither positive nor negative, and it is also said to be a non-afflicted
consciousness. There are seven ways of knowing and, of these, there are five omnipresent
minds that form the basis of all phenomena. The feeling of the mind-basis of- all is a
neutral feeling. To prove that the mind-basis-of-all exists there are two reasonings: one
that is based on texts, and on that is based on logic.
To know the mind-basis-of-all the Buddha taught two texts: The Joy of All the Sutras and
another sutra called the Dode-Conder. This last text was part of the Buddha's third
turning of the wheel of dharma. The verse that shows the mind-basis-of-all is:
The mind-basis-of-all is subtle and vast And is the basis of all imprints. Thinking that this
mind-basis-of-all Possesses a self is a wrong view. I don't speak to those who have such a
The Chittamatrins think that the words of the Buddha are in no need of interpretation.
There are eight types of logical analysis and each of these has two parts: a correct sign
and a consequence. If you want to prove the mind-basis-of-all - taking Cesare as an
example - one can say that he has a mind-basis-of-all because he has taken rebirth. The
second sign is that Cesare has a beginning. The third is that there exists a clear mind, and
one that is not clear. The fourth is that we possess the six types of karma. The fifth is that
we have a memory. The sixth is that there are two types of absorption: one of non-
discrimination, and one of cessation. The seventh is that we possess positive and negative
feelings. The eighth is the process of death and the transfer of consciousness afterwards.
Before the gross and subtle death we experience the six consciousnesses and even during
deep sleep they carry out their functions. When one faints, and cannot account for what
has happened, the six consciousnesses do not carry out their functions; however, the
An Autobiography - Geshe Jampa Gyatso
mind-basis-of-all remains present.
The mind-basis-of-all carries out its function so that positive, negative, and neutral
feelings can manifest. Thus, it must be a mind that doesn't change; otherwise the
imprints of the feelings could not abide there. The mental consciousness cannot be the
one that possesses the imprints of the various feelings because it is only the mind-basis of-
all that retains the impressions of the actions and feelings of the individual. When a
bodhisattva attains the eighth bhumi he no longer has a mind-basis-of-all, but the mental
consciousness has completely matured. When a bodhisattva attains the state of a buddha
he has completely developed the mind-basis-of-all, which is then called the mirror-like
The eighth type of afflicted mind is that which clings to the "I" - the self of persons, and
the self of phenomena. The Chittamatra school presents logical proofs to demonstrate the
existence of the afflicted mind.
One logical reason that proves the existence of the afflicted mental consciousness is the
existence of extraordinary conditions for the mental consciousness. Another reason is the
existence of non-recognition and the two states of absorption, from discrimination to non-
recognition, pacification and non-pacification. Another reason is that generally one says:
"This is my house, my land, my car, etc." Yet another reason is that in the mental
continuum we have attachment to ourselves as an "I".
Every virtuous action is preceded by a motivation: therefore the Chittamatra school
presents these eight types of logic. They believe in the existence of the mindbasis-of-all,
but not in the existence of external phenomena.
In brief, all persons have these eight consciousnesses.
When we reach the eighth bhumi, the mind-basis-of-all changes and becomes a
completely mature consciousness. The afflicted mental consciousness changes as well.
When a bodhisattva attains the state of a buddha, he realizes the wisdom of equanimity.
The Chittmatrins think that when a being attains the state of a buddha, all the types of
mental afflictions change into different mental states. The reverse is true for the
Madhyamikas, who do not share Chittamatra view. Lama Tsongkhapa composed an
extensive commentary on the mind-basis-of-all on which I have briefly reported here.
Until the age of twenty-two, I studied texts on the principal points of debate according to
the Madhyamika view. At the age of twenty-three I began to study the texts of
Madhyamika. Before the Madhyamika course began, in accordance with the Tibetan
calendar starting around the tenth of October, there were preparatory exams and debates
to be taken. During this period there was a festival and many pujas and prayers in the
gompa, which, out of auspiciousness, was called the Madhyamika gompa. All of this took
place in order for our studies to go well.
An Autobiography - Geshe Jampa Gyatso
The subject of the fifth course on the old treatises was the four noble truths, which was the
first subject of debate. The second part was on the non-characteristics, and the third part
was on perfect discrimination. The four noble truths were taught in accordance with the
lower Buddhist schools, known as the hinayana. The second subject, signlessness, was
taught in accordance with the Madhyamika school. The third subject, perfect
discrimination, was taught in accordance with the Chittamatra view. All of these
teachings are contained in a collection called The Three Baskets or precepts that are based
on the words of the Buddha, and of the many Indian pandits who composed numerous
The Five Teachings of Arya Maitreya
The "excellent doctrine" is so-called because it is capable of protecting one from suffering
and is able to eliminate every illusion and mental defect. The principle subject we debated
was the treatises of Arya Maitreya was the reason for which it is important to practice the
dharma. The reason that the Buddha's teachings are said to be perfect is that they possess
the four characteristics: subject, purpose, the aim of the purpose, and relationship. For
example, to verify someone's words and to certify their excellence, one needs to observe
whether they possess the four characteristics. After having studied these scriptures I
studied the Perfection of Wisdom. The first part is a treatise on wisdom, the second is on
the path of wisdom, the third is on the perfect result, and the fourth is on the perfect
The first treatise covers all the scriptures of the Prajnaparamita. The example of the
perfection of the path is all the good qualities in the continuum of a bodhisattva. The
perfection of the result is the state of supreme omniscience. The perfect nature is sunyata
(emptiness). The perfection of the real and the ultimate is the perfection of the result,
while the other three are the perfections that are imputed.
The third subject of this fifth course was bodhicitta, which means having the desire to
attain enlightenment for the benefit of all other beings. This bodhicitta is divided into
twenty-two aspects that occur in sequence of generation, although in general they have
two aspects: the bodhicitta of aspiration, and the bodhicitta of action. The difference is
that the first, aspirational bodhicitta, is that which one practices before having realized
the six perfections, while the second is that which one practices after having these
realizations. There are three ways to realize bodhicitta. The first is explained using the
example of a king, the second using the example of an oarsman, and the third using the
example of a shepherd.
The king-like bodhicitta means having the desire to attain enlightenment in order that all
other beings attain the same state. The oarsman-like bodhicitta is the desire to attain
enlightenment at the same time as all other sentient beings. The shepherd-like bodhicitta
is the desire that all other beings attain enlightenment before oneself, just like a shepherd
makes sure that all the sheep enter the fold before he does.
These three ways of generating bodhicitta are beyond all expression, however there are
two other extraordinary ways to develop bodhicitta: one comes from Manjushri, and the
other from Maitreya.
The method that comes from Arya Maitreya is called the method of the six causes and one
effect: the first six are the causes of the final resultant effect. The first cause is
An Autobiography - Geshe Jampa Gyatso
equanimity and the way to meditate on this is to visualize three persons in front oneself: a
friend, an enemy, and a stranger. Observe the feelings that arise when you think about
these three persons: the affection that you feel for a friend, the aversion you feel towards
an enemy, and the indifferent feelings that you have towards a stranger. Analyzing well,
you can understand the feelings of affection that arise towards your friend - in this life
they have been helpful and made you happy. Similarly, one feels aversion towards the
enemy because that person has done us harm. And finally, the stranger has done nothing
positive or negative towards us. Then, so as not to generate too much attachment for your
friend, you should meditate that in the future that person might harm you, and in past
lives that person may have harmed you. Even if two friends get along very well, in the
future their friendship may deteriorate. An example that is very obvious is the
relationships between nations, parties, and social groups, as well as relationships between
persons in a community. The same thing can be said when we meditate on our enemy. In
the past and future that person may be a friend. Therefore, we can conclude that, in fact,
these three persons are not different as we thought they were.
From the point of view of the dharma, our enemy is the most precious person; he is our
greatest teacher of patience. This is a very powerful way to practice. If someone bothers
us, this is the best thing for developing the mind of patience. I myself have debated on the
subject of the need to practice patience. It is said that all sentient beings, without
exception, have been very kind to us. If someone doubts this, the answer in a debate
would be something like: "Through this being I was able to practice patience, generate
bodhicitta, and attain enlightenment." If we reflect, for example, on a sheep that gives us
wool, milk, and its skin, we can understand how kind it is to us.
After having generated equanimity towards the three types of person, we can reflect that
they have been very kind to us, and that they have been our mother in the past, and will be
so again in the future.
After reflecting on the fact that all beings have been our mother, we go on to reflect on the
loving attitude, which is like the behavior of a mother bird towards its young. In this way,
we can understand how kind we should be with one another. Therefore, a very important
subject to keep in mind when we meditate is the consideration and understanding that all
beings have been kind to us in the same way that our actual mother has been kind to us.
It is impossible to count the number of times that these beings have been our mothers:
we cannot make an exact estimate. We need to think of the kindness that they have had
for us and then it is necessary to generate the thought that we want to repay that kindness
through the practice of dharma. All beings without exception want to be happy and to be
liberated from suffering, but they do not know what true happiness is, or the way to attain
it. They do not even know what suffering is. All these mother sentient beings do not even
possess a bit of happiness that isn't contaminated. Thinking of this, one comes to
understand that the reason for practicing the dharma is to give love to all beings.
Summarizing then: the first cause of bodhicitta is recognizing that all beings have been
our mother. The second is recognizing their kindness. The third is having the desire to
repay that kindness. The fourth is to generate love for those beings. There are two types
of love: the first is the desire that all beings possess happiness, and the second is the
ordinary love that arises from attraction. This arises when we see a loved person that we
recognize - for example, when a father sees his son and says: "How good looking, how
wonderful!" The fifth cause is compassion - that is, the desire that all beings be liberated
from suffering. The sixth is the extraordinary attitude that takes responsibility for
An Autobiography - Geshe Jampa Gyatso
liberating all beings. Right now, we do not have the ability to liberate beings - but who
possesses this ability? Only the buddhas are able to help others effectively.
The seventh point is the resultant effect - bodhicitta. The person who understands this
will make effort to attain the state of a buddha. But first, in order to attain this, it is
necessary to develop bodhicitta. Meditating on this seventh point, it is possible to attain
bodhicitta and to be of help to sentient beings, which is why it is recommended that we
meditate on this point as much as possible.
When I debated on bodhicitta in the fifth course, I meditated in an analytical way and at
the end I did the exams. This meant also meditating on shamata. In this meditation -
one has the aim of liberating oneself from conditioned existence. Without having
vipassana (profound view), it is not possible to achieve this goal.
When one practices shamata, one should carry out analytical meditations on specific
objects. In the beginning this is very difficult, but with time it will become possible to
actualize these two meditations in a unified way. Due to this unification there arises great
flexibility in the body and in the mind, which is then followed by the arising of bliss. With
these results of elasticity and bliss one is able to meditate on any object. It is said that if
one chooses to meditate on a table, for example, then this will not bring any merit.
However, if one meditates on a statue of a buddha, then one will create great merit
because one is meditating on a being who has succeeded in eliminating all of the
obscurations and has attained all the positive qualities of omniscience. If, in the practice
of unifying shamata and vipassana, one chooses an object like impermanence or
emptiness, it is possible that one will simultaneously enter the path of preparation. To be
more specific, after having completed the unified meditation of shamata and vipassana on
impermanence, one will enter the path of accumulation, which is the first of the five paths.
Then, while realizing the unification of shamata and vipassana, one enters simultaneously
into the path of preparation. In the same way, we can apply this method with regard to
emptiness. The ability to have a direct realization of subtle impermanence occurs when
one is able to perceive the sixty-four instants of a finger snap. The intelligence has to be so
acute as to perceive the many instants of the finger snap, and only then can one say that a
person has reached the understanding of subtle impermanence. This is not talking about
intellectual comprehension, but about direct realization.
There is a request to be able to meet the tantric vehicle. The first verse talks about the
three types of people and the three different purposes, as well as how a person should be
qualified for this practice. Amongst all the tantras, the vajratantra is the supreme and it is
those beings who of are most fortunate: The request is as follows: "Please give me the
inspiration so that I am able to practice the tantra without difficulty."
An Autobiography - Geshe Jampa Gyatso
When Lama Tsongkhapa finished composing one of his commentaries, the thirty syllables
absorbed into a rock. This was because this text was very famous and important. Even
today one can see these syllables imprinted in the rock that has been covered with gold.
The disciples of Lama Tsongkhapa who attended this event asked what the significance of
this extraordinary sign was and he responded that in the future, in this same spot, a
monastery would be constructed called Madhyamika. It later came to pass that the
monastery of Sera was constructed there, which specialized in the study of the
Madhyamika texts. In fact, the geshes who graduate in Madhyamika study, debate their
exams in this monastery. The study of the view of the middle way, or Madhyamika, is
divided into the ancient and modern views. The commentary on the modern view was
composed by Getsun Chokyi Gyeltsen, who was a manifestation of Manjushri (the eighth
Karmapa had predicted that Getsun Chokyi Gyeltsen would be a manifestation of
Manjushri). The Madhyamika view is divided into three aspects: the base, the path, and
the result. The aspect of the base corresponds to the two truths: conventional and
ultimate, and the principal subject is sunyata - the emptiness of phenomena. The aspect
of the path corresponds to the realization of sunyata - which is the method for being able
to gradually understand it and then to realize it directly. The aspect of the result concerns
the method for abandoning the obstacles and the obscurations to the attainment of
nirvana and omniscience. The study of the Madhyamika view is said to be the central
method for the development of wisdom.
There are six types of Madhyamika texts and the understanding of the middle way is of
two types: the aspect of the vast, and the aspect of the profound. The understanding of
the vast aspect concerns the conventionality of natural emptiness, while understanding of
the profound aspect concerns the direct understanding of emptiness - that is to say, that
phenomena exist only through imputation by thought and by name. When we talk of
conventionalities, this refers to the study and comprehension of the five paths and the ten
levels of a bodhisattva. When one studies the Madhyamika view, one studies the three
types of dharma: compassion, wisdom, and bodhicitta - which are the causes of the
buddhas and bodhisattvas. The sravakas and pratyekabuddhas are born from the
buddhas. By this, we mean that they are born from the teachings of the buddhas.
Buddhas are born from bodhisattvas; bodhisattvas are born from compassion, non-dual
wisdom, and bodhicitta. The real base of the three vehicles is compassion. The Buddha
gave teachings because of his infinite compassion to those with a small, medium, and
The nature of compassion is the mental attitude that ardently desires to liberate beings
from suffering. Chandrakirti composed the most famous commentary on the Madhyamika
view and, at the beginning, in the verses of homage, praised great compassion. In any
practice of dharma the thought of compassion is important at the beginning because it is
like a seed, in the middle because it is like water and fertilizer, and at the end because it is
needed to care for growth, being the basis for the attainment of enlightenment for the
benefit of all mother sentient beings. In practicing the path, in order to cultivate
compassion one generates bodhicitta and with this one practices the actions of a
bodhisattva. Compassion is distinguished by three aspects: compassion with regard to
sentient beings, compassion with regard to phenomena, and compassion without
reference. To generate compassion in one's own mental continuum, it is necessary to
reflect on the conditioned and suffering nature of cyclic existence. One of the principal
causes that binds the individual in conditioned existence is the conception of true
An Autobiography - Geshe Jampa Gyatso
existence from its own side. This concept of an "I", day after day, reinforces attachment
and the observance of "mine." The mistaken concept of an "I" and the thought of "mine"
fundamentally condition the contaminated actions of beings and bind them to the wheel
of cyclic existence, which is permeated by suffering. In addition, the "I" and "mine" create
imbalance and duality in our feelings of love and compassion, and are a strong obstacle to
the generation of bodhicitta. With this imbalance one creates feelings of friendship,
aversion, and neutrality, which are generated principally by attachment. The attachment
to things that produces continued rebirth in conditioned existence is always caused by
actions that are contaminated by feelings of aversion and hatred. The happiness that we
experience in conditioned existence is false because it is not stable and it ends. The nature
of samsara is without essence, and there is not anything that is certain. The things that
can be attained can then be lost, such as material things like one's social position and
prestige. The freedom that one attains can be lost, and serenity and peace are continually
jeopardized. The rapport between family and friends, or between nations, is often
jeopardized, so we are able to say that in samsara there is nothing certain or stable. The
nature of samsara is impermanent and transforming continuously: therefore, to develop
the consciousness that understands the reality of impermanence helps the individual to be
liberated from attachment and allows one to develop renunciation for conditioned
existence. Samsara is pervaded by continuous suffering, and the only way to escape is the
practice of the virtuous dharma. The desire to liberate oneself from samsara arises with
the understanding of the meaning of renunciation, which is generated with an
understanding of the various forms of physical and mental suffering that one experiences.
All beings experience this suffering and the feeling of compassion that desires not only
one's own liberation, but also that of all sentient beings. Renunciation is the basis of
compassion, and when one realizes true renunciation one is able to liberate oneself from
When my friends and I went to visit the abbot of the Gyu Me tantric college, we spoke
about Tibet and Lhasa and, remembering these things, the abbot cried. In Tibet, Gyu Me
had more than five hundred monks. When it was reestablished in the south of India after
the Chinese invasion it had just a few dozen.
After completing my studies at Sera Je, I entered the monastery of Gyu Me to begin the
tantric texts. In the first year I studied the texts of Guhyasamaja composed by
Chandrakirti and Lama Tsongkhapa. For these studies one uses the root text and four
commentaries. The root text explains the five levels. The first of these concerns the stage
of kye rim (generation) and contains a detailed explanation of the formation of the
Guhyasamaja mandala. This extraordinary text was composed at the foundation of Gyu
Me. In addition to this, one studies a famous text by a disciple of Lama Tsongkhapa.
The main practice of tantra is the transformation of the three bodies into the path. At the
moment of death the body is transformed into the dharmakaya (wisdom body); in the
intermediate stage (bardo) it is transformed into the sambogakaya (fruition body); and at
the moment of rebirth it is transformed into the nirmanakaya (emanation body). One
trains in these transformations during one's life - in the periods when we sleep, dream,
The second level concerns the completion stage. The third concerns the illusory body.
The fourth concerns the clear light. Finally, the fifth concerns the stage of unification of
the illusory body and the clear light. At the end of studying the tantra of Guhyasamaja, I
began to study the tantra of Chakrasamvara (Heruka), composed by Lama Tsongkhapa.
An Autobiography - Geshe Jampa Gyatso
However, I studied the Guhyasamaja tantra in most detail. After about one year at Gyu
Me, His Holiness, Tenzin Gyatso, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama asked me to return to Sera
Je to give the debate exams to attain the promotion to geshe lharampa, which completes
the studies at Sera Je. It was in 1971, in the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama that I
took the debate exam and attained my qualification.
Following that, I received tantric teachings from His Holiness and from his two main
tutors, Kyabje Ling Rinpoche and Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche, on the tantras of
Guhyasamaja, Chakrasamvara, and Yamantaka. I studied other special tantric texts, and
received teachings on the tantras of Heruka and Dorjeneljorma and the Six Yogas of
Naropa. I returned then to Dalhousie, to Gyu Me monastery, and on another occasion I
received more teachings on Guhyasamaja from His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
After having completed these studies, His Holiness transferred me to an area in southern
India, where I was responsible for agricultural works and construction in an area that was
given by the Indian government to the Tibetan population. This responsibility lasted for
two months and then I received another communication from His Holiness asking me to
go to the Sanskrit University of Varanasi to complete some philosophical research on the
perfection of wisdom texts, in particular, regarding the three types of texts known as the
three versions of the Prajnaparamita.
In this same period I was engaged in memorizing the root text of the tantra of
Guhyasamaja because I was preparing for exams that I had to give regarding my tantric
studies. This text was composed of eighty- two pages and was composed at the founding
of Gyu Me. I took the oral exam and then returned to the University of Varanasi, where I
completed the research on the Prajnaparamita, which I concluded by writing a thesis,
copies of which are kept at the university. I returned again to Gyu Me monastery and
became the disciplinarian (gyi gu) for some months and when this job ended I returned
again to work in the area conceded by the Indian government, which was in the area next
to the monasteries of Sera Je and Sera Me. The work that I was directing was used to
sustain the monastery and all the monks had to spend some of their time working in the
One day I received a letter from my friend and fellow student Lama Thubten Yeshe, in
which he asked me if I would accept an invitation to come to New Zealand to teach in a
dharma center. I didn't feel that I could accept without consulting with His Holiness. His
Holiness responded, saying that I should accept the invitation, but only for a period of two
years. When I wrote to Lama Yeshe, he responded to me, saying that it was no longer
necessary to go and that, if I wanted, I could go to the Manjushri center in England.
However, before going directly to England, he suggested that I go to Kopan monastery in
Nepal, where there were thirty western monks, whom I could teach Vasubandhu's
Abhidharmakosha text. The letter was not sent directly to me however, but to my teacher
Geshe Tashi Bum. Geshe Tashi Bum then wrote to the abbot of Gyu Me monastery kindly
asking him to let me go to Kopan to teach the western monks. At this time, I received a
simultaneous request from the library in Dharamsala, but I opted for Nepal to teach the
Before leaving, I went to Drepung monastery since His Holiness Kyabje Ling Rinpoche
was giving teachings on the mental training. Then I went to Ganden monastery to receive
teachings from His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche on the ten permissions of Vajrapani, and
on the fifteen permissions of Abeshamala. I also received teachings on Guhyasamaja,
with the special permission of Jampel Dorje and teachings on the brief version of the Lam
An Autobiography - Geshe Jampa Gyatso
Rim. Then I received the special permission of the protector of the Gelugpa school, Dorje
Shugden, and the day after that, the protectress Palden Lhamo, and this was the last
teaching that I received from His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche.
From Song Rinpoche I received the initiation of Hayagriva. I left for Nepal and Kopan,
where there was a study program, and I taught the Abhidharma to the westerners; while
to the young Tibetan and Nepali monks I taught the initial selected texts for their studies
and the fundamental texts on logic. In this period of my residence at Kopan His Holiness
Serkong Rinpoche came to visit us and I received the initiation of Rinchen Gyatso from
Once I finished with my duties at Kopan, I was quickly engaged by Lama Yeshe to travel to
the west where he introduced me to three countries: France, Spain, and Italy, between
which I could choose my landing place.
I understood that Lama Yeshe wanted me to go to Italy, which, without difficulty, I chose.
They were beginning the preparation of all the documents to obtain an entry visa and a
residence permit. At the beginning, they had many complications and the time was
stretching out and Lama Yeshe wrote to Massimo Corona in Italy, urging him to complete
all the documentation, otherwise there would be the risk of my not coming. Lama Yeshe
also said that, if I wanted to, I could go to Australia. I responded that I didn't have any
problem, and that I wanted to do what he desired.
Luca Corona responded to Lama Yeshe, saying that they were getting all of the necessary
documents, emphasizing not to say that Geshe Jampa Gyatso would not be coming to
Italy, since the Italians had chosen him and were very anxious for his arrival. Finally the
documents arrived and I was able to leave.
I end this biography with the hope that if may be of benefit to all.